Hermes Pan (choreographer)
Hermes Pan was an American dancer and choreographer, principally celebrated as Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute...

's choreographic collaborator on the famous 1930s movie musicals
Musical film
The musical film is a film genre in which songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, sometimes accompanied by dancing. The songs usually advance the plot or develop the film's characters, though in some cases they serve merely as breaks in the storyline, often as elaborate...

 starring Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers was an American actress, dancer, and singer who appeared in film, and on stage, radio, and television throughout much of the 20th century....


Early life

Pan was born Hermes Panagiotopoulos in 1910 in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

, of Greek
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 and Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 extraction. His father was from Aigio
Aigio is a town and a former municipality in Achaea, West Greece, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Aigialeia, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit. Its population is around 30,000. Aigio is surrounded by trees in the north and cliffs in the...

 in Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

 where his family had opened the first theatre. He was sent to Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a city in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers....

 as the Greek consul never to return to Greece. Following the death of Pan's father, his uncle Alkus held Pan, his sister and mother at gun point and burned all their shares and money on the grounds that if he could not have them, no one would.
Hermes and his sister Vasso were eventually raised Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 by his mother, the former Mary Huston. Penniless, they moved to the poorest area of New York where Hermes learned his first tap dancing steps on the streets from local black children. At their lowest ebb, the family had only some potatoes and coffee for their meal. Since that day they vowed to commemorate it and every year, on the same day (June 13th), wrote what they did and ate that day in a journal... this day eventually became a family celebration.
Eventually, he headed with his mother and sister (and "Sammy", a black boy they met at a gas station) West to Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

. His career began with an appearance as a chorus boy in 1928 in the Marx Brothers
Marx Brothers
The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act, originally from New York City, that enjoyed success in Vaudeville, Broadway, and motion pictures from the early 1900s to around 1950...

 Broadway production of Animal Crackers, and he also performed in a dance partnership with his sister Vasso, who subsequently appeared in the chorus of many of the Astaire-Rogers pictures. He first met Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers was an American actress, dancer, and singer who appeared in film, and on stage, radio, and television throughout much of the 20th century....

 in 1930, when he appeared as a chorus singer in the Broadway musical Top Speed.

He retained links with his relatives in Greece and made an extensive visit in the 1970s to meet them.

Collaboration with Fred Astaire

He met Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute...

, whom he physically resembled, on the set of Flying Down to Rio
Flying Down to Rio
Flying Down to Rio is a 1933 RKO musical film noted for being the first screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Astaire and Rogers were not the stars of the film, however, Dolores del Río and Gene Raymond were top-billed. Among the featured players Franklin Pangborn and Eric Blore are...

(1933), in which he worked as an assistant to dance director Dave Gould. While Astaire was trying to work out a series of steps for "The Carioca" number, it was suggested to him that Pan had a few ideas and Pan was invited over. Hermes Pan demonstrated a brief break he had picked up from his street days in New York and from then on the two began a lifelong professional collaboration and friendship which included all the RKO Astaire pictures, including A Damsel in Distress (1937) in which Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers was an American actress, dancer, and singer who appeared in film, and on stage, radio, and television throughout much of the 20th century....

 did not appear, and for which he was awarded the 1937 Academy Award
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 for Best Dance Direction. He had previously received Academy Award nominations for the "Top Hat" and "The Piccolino" numbers from Top Hat
Top Hat
Top Hat is a 1935 screwball comedy musical film in which Fred Astaire plays an American dancer named Jerry Travers, who comes to London to star in a show produced by Horace Hardwick . He meets and attempts to impress Dale Tremont to win her affection...

(1935) and for the "Bojangles of Harlem"' number from Swing Time (1936).

The Astaire-Pan collaboration
Fred Astaire's solo and partnered dances
This is a complete guide to over one hundred and fifty of Fred Astaire's solo and partnered dances compiled from his thirty-one Hollywood musical comedy films produced between 1933 and 1968, his four television specials and his television appearances on The Hollywood Palace and Bob Hope Presents...

, involving 17 out of Astaire's 31 musical films and three of his four television specials, is widely accepted as one of the most important forces in dance choreography of 20th century film and television musicals. Astaire called Pan his "ideas man", and while he generally choreographed his own routines, and sometimes worked with other choreographers, he greatly valued the assistance of Pan not just as a source and critic of ideas, but also as a rehearsal partner for the purposes of fine-tuning a routine.

Given Astaire's obsessive rehearsal habits, this was no mean task. Pan also performed the essential function of rehearsing Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers
Ginger Rogers was an American actress, dancer, and singer who appeared in film, and on stage, radio, and television throughout much of the 20th century....

, whose many other commitments during the filming of the Astaire-Rogers musicals often conflicted with Astaire's rehearsal schedule. In addition, he recorded Ginger's taps
Tap dance
Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by using the sound of one's tap shoes hitting the floor as a percussive instrument. As such, it is also commonly considered to be a form of music. Two major variations on tap dance exist: rhythm tap and Broadway tap. Broadway tap focuses more on the...

 in post production in some numbers.

Pan continued to collaborate with Astaire right up until the latter's last musical picture, Finian's Rainbow
Finian's Rainbow (film)
Finian's Rainbow is a 1968 American musical film directed by Francis Ford Coppola that stars Fred Astaire and Petula Clark. The screenplay by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy is based on their 1947 stage musical of the same name.-Plot:...

(1968), which was a disaster on a number of fronts, not least for Pan himself. The young director Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. He is widely acclaimed as one of Hollywood's most innovative and influential film directors...

 had no prior experience with musical films, and proceeded to ride roughshod over Astaire and Pan's plans for the film's dance routines, reintroducing the style of dancing camera of the early 1930s which Astaire had done so much to banish from the Hollywood musical. Eventually, Coppola fired Pan, who had a small walk-on part in the film; Coppola has since acknowledged his own primary responsibility for the film's artistic failure.

Film appearances

Pan's first on-screen appearance is as a clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

ist during the Astaire-Goddard routine "I Ain't Hep To That Step But I'll Dig It" in Second Chorus
Second Chorus
Second Chorus is a Hollywood musical comedy film starring Fred Astaire, Burgess Meredith, Paulette Goddard, Artie Shaw, and Charles Butterworth, with music by Artie Shaw, Bernie Hanighen, Hal Borne and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The film was directed by H. C...

(1940), and dressed as The Ghost in the deleted (and only) Astaire-Pan routine "Me and the Ghost Upstairs" from the same film. He appeared uncredited with Betty Grable
Betty Grable
Elizabeth Ruth "Betty" Grable was an American actress, dancer and singer.Her iconic bathing suit photo made her the number-one pin-up girl of the World War II era. It was later included in the LIFE magazine project "100 Photos that Changed the World"...

 in Coney Island
Coney Island (1943 film)
Coney Island is a 1943 American Technicolor musical film released by Twentieth Century Fox and starring Betty Grable in one of her biggest hits. A "gay nineties" musical it also featured George Montgomery, Cesar Romero, and Phil Silvers, was choreographed by Hermes Pan, and was directed by Walter...

(1943) and with Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth was an American film actress and dancer who attained fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars...

 in My Gal Sal
My Gal Sal
My Gal Sal is a 20th Century Fox musical starring Rita Hayworth and Victor Mature. The film is a biopic of 1890s composer and songwriter Paul Dresser and singer, Sally Elliot. The story it was based on was written by Paul Dresser's brother, novelist Theodore Dreiser...

(1942). In both films he had non-speaking dancing roles, his only dance performances on film, performances which have allowed comparisons between Pan's and Astaire's dance styles.

When not working with Astaire, Pan was much in demand as a choreographer throughout the golden age of the Hollywood musical, most notably in Lovely To Look At
Lovely to Look At
Lovely to Look At, an adaptation of the Broadway musical Roberta, is a 1952 MGM musical film directed by Mervyn LeRoy.-Plot:Tony Naylor, Al Marsh and Jerry Ralby are looking for backers for their new Broadway show. They have just run out of options when Al gets a letter from his Aunt's attorneys...

(1952) and Kiss Me Kate (1953).

He won an Emmy Award
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

 for the 1958 television special An Evening with Fred Astaire
An Evening With Fred Astaire
An Evening with Fred Astaire is a one-hour live television special starring Fred Astaire, broadcast on NBC on October 17, 1958. It was highly successful, winning nine Emmy awards and spawning three further specials, and technically innovative, as it was one of the first major television shows to be...

and was recognized with a National Film Award in 1980, and by the Joffrey Ballet
Joffrey Ballet
The Joffrey Ballet is a dance company in Chicago, Illinois, founded in 1956. From 1995 to 2004, the company was known as The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. The company regularly performs classical ballets including Romeo & Juliet and The Nutcracker, while balancing those classics with pioneering modern...

 in 1986.

Personal life

Pan never married. He was a personal friend to the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, Shah of Persia , ruled Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979...

, who invited him to the country's
2,500 year celebration of Iran's monarchy
2,500 year celebration of Iran's monarchy
The 2,500 year celebration of the Persian Empire consisted of an elaborate set of festivities that took place October 12–16, 1971, on the occasion of the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Iranian monarchy by Cyrus the Great...

 at Persepolis
Perspolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire . Persepolis is situated northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. In contemporary Persian, the site is known as Takht-e Jamshid...

. He was also close to Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez was a prominent Mexican painter born in Guanajuato, Guanajuato, an active communist, and husband of Frida Kahlo . His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in...

who painted his full portrait. Towards the end of his life he visited Greece, especially his father's city and meeting his relatives.


He died on September 19, 1990, aged 79, from undisclosed causes. He was survived by his sister Vasso, nieces Michelene Laski, Mary Ann Johnson and Christa Meade, and nephew Rock Meade.

External links

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